Held at the Niagara Culinary Institute, part of Niagara College, the event was mostly held outdoors with an indoor component, which included a silent auction and dessert table (don't want that stuff getting ruined in the heat). Two large tents, split into two sections each, in U-shapes, (for a total of four sections between the two tents) held the participants and followed a wine-food-wine-food-wine-food order. Each table in the U was home to two wineries, while food stations had their own separate tables and were occupied by area restaurants and chefs. The band played center stage with a huge open area in front of them and between the 2 tents (at both ends). The open area had chairs and tables scattered about upon which you could rest your food selections and yourself as people chatted with old friends and new acquaintances. The fourth pillar (2 tents plus center stage being the other three) was the inside component, which a few wineries called home for the evening and desserts were served.
It took awhile for people to figure out that they did not have to line up in front of table number one at the beginning a tent’s U. Each tent housed a minimum of six wineries (3 wine tables/stations) and three food stations - the idea was to just walk up to your table of choice get your food and/or drink and walk away. This interesting dilemma was solved by 6:30 on the left side and by 7:00 on the right – at which point the crowd flowed freely to wherever their stomachs and palates led them.
The band was entertaining and the grilling demonstration by the Food Network’s Rob Rainford proved to be educational and fun ... it also drew the crowds away from the tents for a while so they became less crowded and more accessible.
So what were the highlights in the food and wine categories?
The Stone Road Grill had these mini-grilled cheese sandwiches, which were quite tasty and made with a Perron-Swiss cheese from Quebec. These two-bites sized sandwiches were a great appetizer.
Pow Wow served up a house smoked salmon on saffron glass noodles and fresh herbs salad drizzled with chardonnay raspberry reduction - it's a lot to say but very tasty; actually took the chef longer to explain it to me then it did to eat it - so I had seconds.
Riverbend Inn proved to have the highlight food of the night - that was not a desert. Niagara Gold cheese and sweet potato agnolotti (fancy-Italian name for perogee), which were an absolutely fantastic taste sensation. They topped them with Vidalia onion chutney ... I only had two of these, but could I could have filled my belly with a dozen more.
Niagara Culinary Institute - two excellent selections: a baked Brie and a garlic marinated flank steak ... both quite tasty.
Olson Foods and Bakery ... not sure what to highlight here, it was all good, from the Niagara salad bowl with gingered pork and asparagus to the white chocolate brownie with rhubarb ice cream - I left this area immediately in fear of having a second, third or fourth helping; especially when it came to the lemon meringue cupcakes.
Being that it’s summer, and white wines get the spotlight this time of year, it's time to introduce you to the Highlight-Wine-of-the-Night ... Legends Estate Winery 2006 Semillon ... this wine is no laughing matter and no simple summer sipper either. It's beautiful. With grassy, grapefruit, and lemony aromas; the taste is refreshing with plenty of citrus notes and grapefruit tones and a subtle hint of bell pepper in the background. It has to be tasted to truly savour the experience. Many, including myself, were coming back for seconds, thirds, fourths and full glass helpings. At $16.95 I don't think Legends will have this summery pleaser around for a long ... release date pending labels’ arrival, around July 1. This is the wine every winemaker in the place wished they had made.
Other whites of note ...
Flat Rock Cellars 2006 twisted ... is a deliciously playful wine for a hot summer's day or evening. Vineland’s run with Riesling continues with yet another fine offering, this time it's their 2006 Riesling Semi-Dry ... another smooth sipper. Pleasing the palate of Chardonnay drinkers is the first offering from Willow Heights, made by the winemaking team at Creekside ... the Willow Heights 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay puts this winery back on the road to respectability.
A rosé is a rosé is a rosé ...
It would seem that you can do anything with Cabernet Franc, including making a fine rosé. Jackson-Triggs has done it again this year with their delightful summertime in a glass 2006 Cabernet Franc Rosé.
A rosé by any other name would be a red ...
Some reds are light and chillable - good for an afternoon spent on the patio just as much as a cooling white. While this is not a rosé it is light and all red-fruit backed by some peppery goodness. Vinelands 2006 Gamay Noir is a perfect summertime red wine to be chilled and enjoyed by diehard red drinkers who refuse a glass of white. Chill this one and the red fruit pops out of the glass; leave it at room temperature and the peppery notes come through – your choice.
Red as in rare and meaty ...
To me summer is not only about white wine, it's also about barbecues and wonderful red wines to pair with those grilled meats ... here are three that will do the trick. Chateau des Charmes declassified their top tier wine (Equuleus) barrels and opted instead to make more of the 2004 Estate Bottled Cabernet-Merlot - a barbecuers dream wine. Coyote's Run also produces a fine Meritage blend that is perfect for those evenings with friends and fire-charred beef, look for the 2005 Meritage. Finally Fielding - sounds like a movie title, but their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is a wonderful addition to grilling nights. All three of these reds will go well with anything you grill-up this season, or ones that you’ll have five years from now … so buy a few and enjoy them over time.
It seems only fitting that I end my review of “The Grille” with wine to use for grilling. This year's event was much more informal than the one held last year at the St. Catharines golf course. There were more shorts and t-shirts and less suits, formal shirts and ties ... It’d be a good idea to have these cookouts every year to celebrate the New Vintages Festival because afterall, it is about fun and summer at this time of year. Even better would be to see The Grille roam from winery to winery giving others the chance to host it - say on Creekside’s patio and backyard, on Hernder’s veranda, or Hillebrand’s property, Featherstone and Ridgepoint might also have the space ... Hmmm maybe I'm on to something here, if they use this idea I hope I get a little credit.